Wednesday, November 30, 2011


"The Gray Ghost" is a term used to describe a male Northern Harrier. Relatively few adult males are seen and photographed. They seem to just appear out of nowhere and for this reason, mature males have long been referred to as “The Gray Ghosts”. The adult male is gray on its head, wings, and back with a gray tail banded with a number of darker gray bars. The male has white underparts, black wingtips, and a brilliant yellow eye. The Northern Harrier is one of the few raptors where the plumage of the male and female is very different. Since juvenile Northern Harriers resemble the adult female in plumage color, there appears to be more female harriers than males. Female and immature Northern Harriers are primarily brown overall with a lighter breast with dark streaks. Both the male and female have a very diagnostic white patch at the base of their tail. The Northern Harrier has a wingspan of 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet, with the female being quite a bit larger than the male.

Harriers are considered one of the most acrobatic raptors. They can be seen "hunting on the wing" flying low and slow over the fields as they hunt. When hunting, harriers use their hearing more than other hawks, with the help of their owl-like facial disks. Their prey consists of small mammals, reptiles, insects, and birds. While harriers fly calmly over a field, they will dramatically alter their direction and plunge onto their prey.

Northern Harriers nest on the ground in piles of sticks and leaves. A male harrier will mate with multiple females and can be seen flying a series of barrel rolls during their courtship display.

There are numerous Northern Harriers at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge right now. Mostly females and juveniles, but we have seen males on a few occasions. Getting close enough to a Northern Harrier to get a good photo is difficult. Trying to chase or follow them with a vehicle usually does not result in a close image. Studying a harrier's flight habits and patterns over a few days can give the photographer an idea of where to park and wait for the harrier to come to them. Harriers tend to fly regular routes along ditches, hedgerows, fencelines and road margins. I have had some luck using this technique resulting in a number of flight and portrait images of both the female and male Northern Harrier.

Written by: Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo
Photography by: Skeeter Lasuzzo

For more raptor photos see the Friends of Hagerman Gallery and Friends of Hagerman Facebook Page.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Turkey Facts from NWTF

The Friends of Hagerman recently held a program for children at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, “Talking Turkey” with classroom materials provided by the National Wild Turkey Federation.

By sitting in with the youngsters, Blogger learned that:

Benjamin Franklin nominated the turkey to be the national bird for the United States of America.

President Abraham Lincoln started the tradition of a White House pardon for a turkey on Thanksgiving – the impetus? His son Tad made friends with the turkey that was to be on the Thanksgiving menu (later named Jack!)

There are five subspecies of the wild turkey: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, Merriam’s and Gould’s. The wild turkeys at Hagerman NWR are Rio Grande. The domestic turkey we are familiar with is descended from a subspecies that is now extinct.

An adult female turkey is called a hen. Hens generally weigh between 8 and 11 pounds. Female turkeys less than one year old are called a jenny. Like many other birds, the females’ feathers are more subdued in color than the males’, allowing them to better blend in with their surroundings.

An adult male turkey is called a gobbler. The name comes from the sound they make in spring, to attract the hens during the mating season. Gobblers weigh about 21 pounds, but the birds’ weight varies by region of their habitat. A male under one year in age is called a jake. Hatchlings of both genders are called poults.

Young turkeys favor insects for their diet. As they mature, mast such as acorns, pecans and berries, along with various seeds and grains, becomes the primary diet for the wild turkey.

Wild turkeys can run or fly. They can run up to 19 mph for short distances. They usually fly only short distances but can fly up to 55 mph. They prefer the borders between woodlands and field…low cover for nesting, trees for roosting and for their food source.

Wild turkeys are not migratory and often live out their life span within five miles of their hatching site.

Unregulated hunting had nearly pushed the wild turkey to extinction by the 1930’s. Then hunters stepped in to support conservation and restoration, and now thanks to individuals, to legislation and to organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation, more than seven million wild turkeys roam America’s woodlands.

Happy Turkey Day!

Photo by Dick Malnory

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Colors of Autumn at Hagerman NWR

By Helen Petre

Every autumn, usually in November, nature puts on a brilliant show of color at Hagerman NWR. This is attributed to mild autumn days coupled with cold, but not freezing nights. Each autumn the amount of sunlight decreases as the days grow shorter. This is the signal for the leaves to stop making chlorophyll. When the leaves stop making chlorophyll, the other pigments become visible.

Leaves produce food by photosynthesis. They use the sun’s energy, water and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates. Leaves produce carbohydrates for the tree or shrub all during the spring and summer. They do this so well, that by autumn, the tree or shrub has enough food stored in the trunk and roots that it can live through the whole long winter without making any more food.

The sun’s light is actually white light and consists of all the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Most leaves have lots of chlorophyll and some carotenoids. Some leaves also have anthocyanin, tannin and flavones. Chlorophyll absorbs all of the colors of light in sunlight except green. Green light is reflected, so a leaf that has mostly chlorophyll looks green.

Carotenoids are carotene and xanthophylls. Carotenes are similar to vitamin A and they look orange, like pumpkins, carrots and sweet potatoes. Xanthophylls are the pigment in sunflowers, dandelions, corn and egg yolks.

Some leaves also have anthocyanin, which can be red or blue. If the plant is acidic, the color is red. If the plant is basic, the color is blue. Tannins are the brown color in tea, bark and blackjack oak leaves in the fall. Flavones are the yellow in horse chestnut and onions.

Autumn leaf color is due to newly made red pigments as well as yellow and orange carotenoids that were already present in the leaf and are rendered visible because the leaf is no longer making the dark green chlorophyll in autumn. . Each species of deciduous tree and shrub has its own unique colors. Red oak and winged shining sumac leaves turn bright shades of red in autumn. This is because as the amount of sunlight decreases, a layer of cells develops at the point where the leaf joins the stem. This blocks carbohydrates from moving out of the leaf and the increased amount of carbohydrate is used to make anthocyanin, the red color. Female shining sumac trees also produce red fruits that stay on the tree until frost. Anthocyanin production is inhibited by frost, so when it freezes the leaves can no longer make the red pigment and they turn brown from tannin. If the day time temperatures are too warm, the colors will be less intense because the chlorophyll will still be masking the other colors.

Besides trees, poison ivy abounds at Hagerman NWR and it is one of the most beautiful plants in the fall. Be careful not to touch it. Many people mistake poison ivy for harmless foliage and gather it to use in decorations. The red, yellow and orange color is due to the anthocyanins.

Honey Locust trees at Hagerman turn yellow in autumn. They have no anthocyanin, but lots of carotenoids. Other fall plants at Hagerman that turn yellow are: pecan, muscadine grapes, black walnuts and cottonwood. Sycamores turn brownish yellow. Wild plums turn reddish yellow and rough leafed dogwoods turn purplish red. Persimmon turns yellow, orange and reddish purple.

When you come to Hagerman in the fall to view the migrating ducks and geese that come to feed in the fields and marshes for the winter, spend some time noticing the vibrant and beautiful colors of fall. The yellows and oranges were there all along, but they were not visible because of all the green of summer. Now is your chance. Enjoy.

(Photo by Laurie Sheppard)

For more photos of the Refuge as well as information on activities and events of the Friends of Hagerman, see

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

At the Refuge - Week of November 6 – 12, 2011

Beginning this week, all visitors to the Refuge Office, Visitor Center and FOH Center (Audio Visual Classroom, etc.) at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge will enter via the main gateway. The road leading to the FOH Center and maintenance area is being gated off. To reach the FOH Center, just follow the road from the Visitor Center parking on through the maintenance area.

On November 11, Veterans Day, the Refuge Office will be closed and there will be no official business conducted. The Visitor Center and Nature Nook will be open from 10 am – 3 pm that day.

Hagerman NWR and the Friends of Hagerman will offer several programs at the Refuge on Second Saturday, November 12.

Activities will begin with a guided nature walk, led by Dr. Jason Luscier, Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology at Austin College. Participants will note that recent rains have greened up the Refuge, just as of this week there is a little autumn color and the fall migration is still underway. Walkers will meet at 8 am at the Visitor Center and should dress for the weather. Bring your binoculars and field guides or use our loaners. The walk will end in time for the 10 am programs, and will be cancelled in case of rain.

From 9 – 10 am complimentary coffee will be served in the FOH Center.

At 10 am, Ross Anderson will speak on Tree Swallow Reproductive Success and Site Fidelity at Red Slough Wildlife Management Area, Oklahoma, in the meeting room of the Visitor Center. Tree Swallows are a nearctic-nearctic migrant and their range has expanded southward in the last three decades. This swallow is a cavity nester and readily accepted nest boxes placed at Red Slough Wildlife Management Area (WMA). At Red Slough WMA a network of nest boxes was established and the occupying swallows were monitored. Over two field seasons, Anderson banded 346 Tree Swallows and recaptured 40% of the adults and 5% of the previous year’s nestlings.

Anderson is a graduate student from Southeastern Oklahoma State University under the guidance of Dr. Doug Wood. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Conservation at SOSU and has completed the coursework for a Masters in Conservation at Southeastern. He is working on completing his thesis. Anderson currently resides in Tushka, Oklahoma, where he owns an archery shop.

Also at 10 am, the Second Saturday for Youth topic will be “Talking Turkey”, with Katie Palmer. This program is full, for Nov. 12, thanks.

The Friends Nature Photo Club will also meet in the Visitor Center on Nov. 12. A photo presentation from the October photo safari will be shown from noon until 12:30 pm, and then the meeting will begin. For details on sharing photos for the meeting, please contact

All of these activities are free of charge and open to the public. Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge is located at 6465 Refuge Road, Sherman, Texas, 75092. Visitors may enjoy outdoor activities at the Refuge from sunrise until sunset daily, with no admission charge.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New at the Nature Nook

The Nature Nook at Hagerman will soon offer a product direct from the Refuge! Hiking and walking sticks hand-crafted by William H. Powell, from fallen wood found at Hagerman. The blogger had a peek at these on Monday, made from woods like cedar and winged elm.

Bill Powell and his wife Carol are workampers at the Refuge and have a strong connection with Hagerman NWR; since Bill’s retirement, they have given up their home in Pennsylvania and served as workkampers at eight national wildlife refuges across the U.S., spending several months during each of the last two years here at Hagerman in that capacity. A retired cemetery superintendent, Bill is certified to operate maintenance and other equipment at the Refuge, while Carol uses her office skills. In addition Bill was Photographer of the Month for the Friends in February of this year and placed in the recent annual Hagerman NWR photo contest.

The Nature Nook also offers wood carvings by Dick Malnory, matted nature photos by Donna Niemann, and framed photos by Mary Karam. In addition Laurie Lawler’s laminated bookmarks, featuring photos taken at the Refuge, and nature notecards by Sue and Dick Malnory can be found in the gift and book shop.

The Nature Nook is open from 9 am - 4 pm Monday through Saturday and 1 - 5 pm on Sundays. New merchandise is arriving for fall and the holidays. This week packets of Bluebonnet and of Mixed Texas Wildflower seeds arrived, just in time for fall planting. Volunteers staff the operation and are glad to help you choose just the right nature gift from among T-shirts, caps, field guides and more. Most credit cards are accepted, too.

Click to learn more about Hagerman NWR and the Friends of Hagerman.

Photo of Bill Powell taken by Dick Malnory.